Jesus said we should love our neighbor. (Matthew 22:39) So who is our neighbor? And how do we love them?
When Jesus walked this earth, he showed love to everyone he met. If I use his example, I have many opportunities to show love every day. Obviously to my family. My spouse. My children. My parents. My siblings. And then as I go through my day I should show love to my co-workers. My boss. My friends. The person that rings up my groceries. The driver in the car next to me. People at church. The list goes on and on.
So how do I love them? There are countless passages in scripture that either give us specific instructions on how to love or provide an example of how someone showed love. One of the most popular breaks love down for us.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)
Patient. How often do the people around us not handle things the way we’d like them to? How often do we think we’ve got a better way? Or even just want them to “hurry up”? Patience allows someone to move at their own pace. To figure things out in their own way. Even to make their own mistakes with our love behind them to catch them when they fall. It means we have to take the focus off of ourself and our own agenda and remember it’s about what God wants.
Kind. This more than just being nice in the robotic, the “way we’re supposed to” kind of way. This is about truly caring about another person and doing something that shows you do. Sometimes being kind means nothing more than really listening to someone. Sometimes a timely smile might be all that it takes. Often there’s even more we can do to impact someone’s life in a positive way. Giving. Volunteering. Lending a helping hand. How many times in a day are we given the opportunity to show kindness? How many times do we act on it?
Does not envy. The dictionary defines envy as a feeling of discontent to someone else’s advantages. Why do we get like that? Why does it bother us so much if someone else has something we don’t? Or is successful in an area we’re not? Surely we have things that others don’t. And even if the possession or advantage in question is ill-gotten, that’s not our concern. That’s between them and God. If we spent more time thanking God for our own blessings and less time worrying about how he might be choosing to bless others, we would see that we have all we need and more than we realized. And without the ugly sin of envy in our way, we would be much more able to be loving.
Does not boast. Is not proud. On the flip side of being envious is being boastful and prideful. Although we should definitely share the ways that God is working in our life, to do so with an inflated emphasis on how great we are is not loving. The Bible says that our words should be edifying. Uplifting. Beneficial. The focus should be on the God who blesses not necessarily on the things he’s chosen to bless us with. And most certainly not on any part we think we’ve had in it.
Does not dis-honor others. The NLT translates this as not being rude. And the KJV says “does not behave itself unseemly”. This pretty much means don’t be a jerk. This is why thinking before you speak or act is so important. Every action has a consequence. Is what we’re about to do or say going to end well? Is it going to be something we wish we could take back? Is it going to be something that makes someone wonder how we can claim to be a Christian? Think of the acronym W.W.J.D. – What would Jesus do?
Not self-seeking. It’s really not about us. There’s a big world full of people and God loves every one of them. Wherever he’s happened to place us, he’s done so for us to impact our world for Christ. Once we comb our hair, brush our teeth and walk away from the mirror – we should be done looking at ourself and our focus should be on those around us. God’s got our back. He’ll be sending people our way when we need them. And those will be people that aren’t thinking about themselves but are looking at us. We need to be keeping an eye out for our next assignment.
Not easily angered. Or provoked, as the KJV says. Notice it doesn’t say we’re not to be angry. There are plenty of injustices and tragedies that anger God. If he moves us to anger over something that angers him, and if we’re keeping all of this other love stuff in focus, great things could come from our righteous anger. What this says is not to be easily angered. Don’t let someone get under your skin and cause you to sin. This kind of anger will consume you and will quickly turn you into someone you never wanted to be. It’s not always easy to do, but we must remember that God is the ultimate judge. If someone has truly wronged you, they will have to answer for it someday. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in regards to this is if you’re mad, and you feel the need to confront someone about it – wait 24 hours. Chances are you’ll have a different perspective and you might see that it’s not as big of a deal as you thought. And if you do decide to bring it up, you’ll be much more able to do it lovingly.
Keeps no record of wrongs. Imagine that. Not having a list in your head of the ways someone has wronged you. It seems to be a pretty natural human tendency to remember that stuff. It is as if we need to hang on to it in case it will come in handy at a later date as a tool in an argument or an excuse for our own poor choices. Neither of those reasons are legitimate reasons to allow that list to take up any of our brain space. And having something like that floating around in our heads is sure to lead to bitterness and to harden our hearts, making it that much harder to be loving.
Love always protects… always trusts… always hopes… and always perseveres.
Love can be pretty amazing if we get it right. And whats even more amazing is that the Bible makes it undeniably clear that God loves us. And since he inspired Paul to define love this way – it’s safe to say that all of these actions are regularly being taken by God towards every one of us. How awesome!